Our first real act as parents was holding her body, bundled tightly in hospital blankets, after they brought her out from the morgue.

I’d been too scared, too shocked, too horrified to hold her after birth, trapped in a paralysis interrupted only by shaking sobs and post-labour chills. I wasn’t expecting my baby to be a corpse.  The child I had been waiting to greet had already disappeared from view, her face obscured by the thick paint-strokes of death, bright with inappropriate, cruel colour. I didn’t know how to make sense of the infant form in front of me. I didn’t know how to mother a daughter who died before I got to see her.

Afterwards, though, my body ached to hold her, to feel the weight of her. I rejected the funeral directors’ suggestion we pick a casket for the cremation ceremony. She would not lie alone, a contained object on a table to be distantly weeped at before burning. She would be in my arms. Until I had to let her go.

When we went three days later to pick her up for the hospital morgue, we wailed in unison at the sight of the thickly-wrapped body they brought out, and we stretched out our arms to receive her. I remember the small cylinder of cold through the layer of blankets, the stiff crinkle of plastic. I welcomed the weight.  Then, ready with a handful of paper and cloth, we put her down gently before us, two parents bending over their first child and figuring out together how to hold, how to touch.  I wanted her to be wrapped with photos, letters and cards from us and all the people in our lives who had waiting to receive her. I wanted her ashes to be mingled with the evidence that she was wanted. I didn’t want her to be alone.  We stroked the blanket covering our baby, spots on the surface spreading and darkening with both our tears, and made out the orientation of head and feet. We kissed her, we told her we loved her, and then carried her to the car taking us to the crematorium. Parents, finally.

But are we really? What do I know about mothering when I couldn’t make out the face of my own child, when I could only hold her with a barrier of blankets between us?

There’s one moment that frightens me most when I anticipate the impending birth of this other child. Other than more death, that is. I’m not frightened of the pain or length of labour, I’m not really frightened about emergency c-sections, radical episiotomies, or dramatic, disfiguring perineal tears. Worried, of course, but not frightened. What does frighten me is that moment where I just might come face to face with another infant. One that’s alive. One that’s mine. One that should be seen, and held.

I’m scared of what I’ll see when I look into the face of a breathing, crying newborn, scared of being shown anew the difference that death makes. I’m scared of catching a glimpse of what I should have seen a year ago, scared the TV-screen scramble my shocked brain broadcast in response to my firstborn’s face will be restored to clarity – a perfect, high-definition picture of what and who we’ve lost.

And so rather than anticipating the moment I meet this child with eagerness and excitement, I’m wondering whether I’ll want to see him or her at all. If I’ll be able to.

I’m wondering what kind of mother that makes me, if any at all.

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